Borrowing from Reality

Have you ever written a fictional character that mimics a person you know in real life, either intentionally or unintentionally?  The resemblance might be a certain mannerism, a general attitude, the way he or she interacts with other characters, or anything else along those lines.  And if you have, how effectively were you able to flesh that character out?

My best characters tend to be those that remind me of absolutely no one.  I’ve had a few characters that reminded me of real people, but thinking back on it now, I always had the most trouble getting those character right.  If they were in a short story, one that I finished writing in one sitting, they might not give me too much trouble.  But for novel-length projects, characters with traits I’ve “borrowed” from reality never turn out right.

I think the reason for this is that, the moment I draw a connection between a fictional character that I’m writing and an individual I actually know from real life, I have trouble separating the two again.  Unless the character reminds me of someone I’ve known all my life, it’s likely that my understanding of the real life individual will change during the course of me writing, thus changing my understanding of the character that reminds me of the real life person.  Sometimes those changes don’t mesh well within a storyline, though, and I end up forcing the character to do things that the character, as originally designed, wouldn’t actually do.  Otherwise, I feel like I’m being unrealistic or unfair towards that character’s real life counterpart.

From now on, I’ll try avoiding characters that remind me too much of people I actually know.  Characters should be their own characters.  It’s okay for a character to share a few traits with a real individual, but if the writer is unable to keep the character and the individual separate, it’s probably best to avoid that practice.  At least, I think that’d be best for me and my writing.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Borrowing from Reality

  1. its really hard not to though!!

  2. I actually have trouble basing a character off of someone I know in real life. I’ll start off trying to once in a while, than before I know it the character is nothing like them anymore. It’s a little bit of a shame since I’ve known some real eccentric people who would make great book characters.

    • I think that’s part of my problem, actually. The characters usually end up completely different from the actual person, but because I don’t want to imply that the actual person is that way, I try forcing the characters back into a mold they’ve already expanded past. And that just causes more problems. :P

  3. I don’t think I do it on purpose, but my characters must come from somewhere…they probably have bits of people from my real life in them.

    • That’s a good point — all characters must come from somewhere. Along with bits and pieces of real life, though, I think some of my characters have bits and pieces of other fictitious characters in them, too. A story I read with really well-crafted characters is bound to stick with me for a while, so even though I don’t mean to, some of my characters probably get influenced by fictional characters I’ve previously run across.

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